Christmas may mean different things to different people, but the facts are that it is a time for many of us to get away from work for a few days - maybe even a week or two. It might be the first real break since winter.
Unfortunately, says life coach Cassandra Gaisford, too many people will remain 'on' during the break thanks to their smartphone and laptop.
Gaisford, who has a Bachelor of Commerce and Administration, Marketing and Human Behaviour from Victoria University, as well as diplomas in psychology and counselling, says access to technology often leads to people not taking a real break from work, "they are always on a device".
And this means that while the routine of going to work may be on hold, the invisible tether to the job may not.
"The smartphone has made a massive difference to stress levels," says Gaisford. "They have had a huge impact on holidays and that makes it even more important to unplug and switch it off - to have a self-imposed digital detox.
"Companies talk of technology liberating us from the office, but it hasn't liberated us - it ties us to the job no matter where we go in the world. So we need to take back control."
Gaisford has heard of firms telling staff to turn their company phone off during holidays - but says many people are scared or unable to do that; "particularly if they give out their work number to friends and family".
She also wonders whether companies advising staff turn their phones off is an empty request, more a case of the firm being seen to do something for the mental wellbeing of their staff while secretly expecting them to remain available for calls, texts and email 24/7.
This 'always-on' culture has risks for all, warns Gaisford. "If people don't shut down then it is like the All Blacks playing at 100 per cent every day - people can't do that and not expect to suffer. Eventually you will just collapse," she says.
"You can feel angry, emotional, more tearful, on edge, suffer depression, have highs and lows and then you add in sleep disturbances and people can make irrational decisions - people do find Christmas stressful.
"The health implications of not taking a proper break from work are serious and you risk brownout or burnout."
Brownout seems to be a relatively new phrase that relates to the first signs of full-blown burnout, which can be debilitating. If you can sidestep brownout, you can avoid burnout says Gaisford.
Signs of brownout can include:
- Being irritable and raging at the small things.
- Seeing your job as dull and boring (even if it used to excite you).
- You see no direction in your career and use any excuse not to go to work.
- You are glued to your smartphone no matter where you are or who you are with.
- Outside interests have been forgotten.
- You're out of shape, have stopped exercising and eat too much junk food.
"People need to listen to their body barometer to identify the signs of stress," says Gaisford. "It is really important to catch them early and not to dismiss them. Too many doctors subscribe anti-depressants but that doesn't stop the cause of the issue."
Not having a proper rest can have dire consequences.
"One person I know spent three years recovering from burnout," says Gaisford. "He literally could not get out of bed. He could not function and went into a complete mental breakdown - all because he refused to rest and take breaks from work. He spent three years without earning an income as he simply could not work."
Peer pressure may be an issue for some people and lead them to carry on working when they are supposed to be on holiday.
Gaisford says: "Too many people think they can keep going on and too many people feel the expectation is that they can't turn off - but if you don't then there will be consequences.
"We all know of people who have had a heart attack… and too many people deal with work stress by drinking too much. When people are stressed or frazzled they will turn to using things that are not good for them, and that adds to the health risk."
Working when you should be resting can also take its toll on family, says Gaisford.
"If people don't take a break they can become aggressive or argumentative," says Gaisford. "It is horrific how much family violence that happens in New Zealand over the Christmas period."
While conceeding that there may not be a link between domestic violence and a lack of rest, Gaisford says that if you don't manage how you are going to spend the holiday period then personal relationships can be at risk.
"The change in routine takes time to adjust to. You have been getting up and going to work week-in, week-out and then suddenly your time is your own and the family is thrown together. It takes some time to adjust to this.
"Some people love their jobs and are addicted to certain behaviours related to it. You need to give yourself a few days to come down. It's like being a Ferrari and suddenly you are parked up in the garage with the engine turned off. You can't go from 140mph to zero without planning for that downtime. You need to rejoice in the free time you have."
Gaisford says people need to value their down time as they will be more productive when they get back to work.
"The risk is that people who do not rest up risk returning to work and then resigning - and it may not be a rational decision. It is knee jerk and if they had taken some down time they might be happier about where they are."
Gaisford recommends that people think about what's stopping them from taking time out.
"There is the fear of missing out or retribution from the employer... Perhaps they need to learn assertiveness. Is it the job that's stopping you, is it money worries... it is important for people to analyse why they are not taking time out."
She says prioritising personal relationships is key, and that includes looking at the people in front of you - not your phone.
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